Vol. II: January–March, 2002.
[In response to a post praising Australian Cosmopolitan for showing a few plus-size models alongside its usual straight-size contingent.]
This site differs from others of a similar nature because it is not about “accepting” the classical female figure, but celebrating it. We are delighted to hear that Australian Cosmopolitan uses models in a variety of sizes, but this is usually not the case. Almost never, as a matter of fact.
A painful example of what usually happens is provided by the fate of the Talbots Woman catalogue.
Up until this season, Talbots published a catalogue exclusively for its size-14W+ customers, featuring many of the most famous plus-size models, including Barbara Brickner, Kate Dillon, and Kristin Briscoe. At its best, the Talbots Woman catalogue almost seemed like a more conservative, sister publication to MODE magazine. The clothes were not very exciting, but the images were wonderful.
Unfortunately, Tabots has now eliminated its 14W+ promotion, and instead combined its Misses, Petite, and Woman catalogues into a single entity.
Does this mean that the new, amalgamated catalogue features a representative selection of misses-size models, petite models, and 14W+ models? Of course not. The plus-size models are all gone. Every last one of them. This hybrid catalogue features nothing but wall-to-wall waifs. And the rationale behind this is all too familiar—“Straight size models represent all customers.”
Sure they do.
You can view the entire Misses/Petite/Woman catalogue on line at the Talbots site.
The salient point is this: as long as the media is dominated by straight-size models, images of plus-size women will never appear “normal” to the general public. It still remains the case that if a size-14 model is presented standing next to a size 4 model, it is the latter who will appear “normal” to most readers, because that is the image that their eyes have been trained to accept. To use a crude analogy, if the media only showed the public images of cats without tails, cats with tails would start to appear odd to most people, even though they are in the majority.
The only way to “normalize” the appearance of fuller-figured women in the media is with a greater proliferation of images of plus-size models and actresses. This will never happen in “universal” publications, which will almost always follow the Talbots route. Therefore, we do need magazines and catalogues expressly devoted to showcasing images of classically-proportioned women. And someday, when the ratio of plus-size model to straight-size models in advertising is equivalent to the ratio of full-figured women to underweight women in society, maybe then the Cosmo Australia approach will be more beneficial.
February 1, 2002
Aesthetic of the past, shape of the future…
People often wonder about the politics of the Judgment of Paris. Some visitors note its right-wing tendencies, others consider it an ally of various left-wing causes. But the truth is that the site is not only not apolitical, it is antipolitical.
So what is our attitude towards American capitalism? Simple—we judge it on a case-by-case basis, and the question that underlies our assessment is this: “Does capitalism advance the cause of the aesthetic restoration?” In other words, “Does it promote or suppress Beauty?” And when it does promote Beauty, we praise and support it.
Businesses often latch on to social trends and opportunistically exploit them with an eye towards profit, and to them, plus-size beauty is one such “trend.” But we seek to turn that opportunism to our advantage. We isolate the aesthetic element that a company employs in its service, and, by liberating it from its immediate context, we reclaim its power as an expression of pure Beauty.
We do not particularly care if Fashion Bug sells more outfits because, say, Shannon Marie models them. However, if Fashion Bug believes that Shannon Marie will bring them profit, they will use her repeatedly and put more beauty into the world—and specifically, a type of beauty that is uniquely subversive, a type of beauty that the media usually resists.
And the dissemination of that image of beauty will have an effect on the culture far greater than the ad campaign’s original purpose.
One of the many reasons why we always looked upon MODE so favourably was because, for our purposes, it was an ideal example of “good” capitalism. True, the publishers were out to make a profit by targeting a segment of the market that was being ignored, but the method they chose was one that gave North American culture a taste of beauty that it had never seen before, except in paintings from bygone eras. MODE brought plus-size beauty out of the past, reinterpreted it for the present, and made possible its societal ascendancy in the future.
Currently, the Just My Size company is engaged in a significant national promotion that strikes us as another example of “good capitalism.” Although JMS has been running its “I AM” series of print ads for several years—we saw them in MODE and elsewhere—as of late last year, it expanded this promotion considerably. It began placing “I AM” ads in national publications (e.g., the Natalie Laughlin promo that was mentioned on this forum a while ago). It redesigned the packaging of its intimate apparel products to feature attractive plus-size models such as Barbara Brickner. It created an alternative Web domain to its shopping site (justmysize.com) and called it justmysize.net, with a more attractive presentation and MODE-like feel, and with an appealingly combative version of the “I AM” slogan that ties it in directly with the theme of this Web site:
“I am the shape of the future.”
The site even makes available in .mpg form a television commercial that JMS shot on the “I AM” theme, although the choice of models used in that TV spot may strike some as a bit disappointing.
Justmysize.net is a world unto itself—a world much like ours, but also somewhat in advance of ours—a world in which it is indisputable that plus-size beauty is true beauty, in which women delight in their femininity rather than attempting to “compensate” for it, in which women feel no guilt about enjoying life to the fullest, and in which beauty is an end unto itself that helps bring joy into even the darkest recesses of the heart.
When Grace magazine debuts, let us hope that it will take its cue from the JMS approach, and from the early MODE issues that set this style, and helps the future of our culture…take shape.
February 27, 2002
Fashion’s “Classical Revival”
One reason why this site treats “size” issues in a way that is different from others is because it approaches the topic from an arts/humanities orientation rather than from a fashion perspective. “So why a site about plus-size beauty at all?” we are often asked. “And why the special focus on modelling?”
Well, it all began with the “Cotton Ginny Plus” model. Long-time visitors to this site may remember that one of the feature models on the Judgment of Paris Survey page used to be an unidentified girl whom we unimaginatively dubbed the “Cotton Ginny Plus” model, simply because her images were scanned from a CGP brochure. It wasn’t until recently that we learned her real name—Amy Poland, a former Ford 12+ girl.
Long before Liis or Lorna Roberts came into the picture, it was Amy’s work that sparked our interest in the whole notion of plus-size modelling, and indirectly led to the creation of this site.
Amy’s images for Cotton Ginny Plus were like nothing that we had ever seen before. Even at the time that they came out (circa 1993), we knew that there was something special about the whole concept of a “plus-size model.” From the moment that we first saw these CGP ads, we realized how profoundly unconventional they were. It wasn’t just the fact that the model appeared to have full, feminine proportions. She was also attractive, not matronly, and had an unusually soft look. Even her hair was arranged in a golden blonde hairstyle that seemed untimely. The casual clothing that she was wearing appeared out of place on her. One could sooner imagine her in a splendid gown in a castle ballroom.
But here she was, modelling casual contemporary clothing.
Here was a girl who was clearly not an androgynous model, not the media’s image of a “modern woman,” yet she was being photographed in the same, commercially “glamorous” way that conventional models like Cindy Crawford or Christy Turlington were. Here was an unmodern model being photographed in a modern way. It was as if someone had gone back in time and taken a photograph of Simonetta Vespucci (Botticelli’s model), or Helene Fourment (Rubens’s wife and model).
Antique paintings and sculptures of the fuller female figure have a single drawback, when it comes to influencing the modern world: because they exist in media that are no longer dominant in our culture, modern viewers often feel a certain disconnect from them. A Vogue magazine cover seems much more relevant to them than does a fresco in the Vatican. And whatever image is presented on that Vogue cover will be persuasive simply because it has the modern media’s “commercial sanction.”
We knew that there was something extraordinary and unique in this juxtaposition of the aesthetics of the past and the present. It was as revolutionary as if someone had started constructing modern buildings on Gothic principles; or telling timeless stories with untimely values, using the most contemporary storytelling techniques.
One speaks of a “Gothic Revival” in the art and architecture of the 1800s. Plus-size modelling offered the possibility of a “Classical Revival” in fashion. An aesthetic restoration.
Again, looking at those Cotton Ginny Plus ads, we knew that there was something significant about them, but we were unable to explain it to anyone in a way that made sense. It wasn’t until the Internet was created several years later that we discovered the perfect medium in which to spread this message about a past-and-future aesthetic that was right here, in front of everyone’s eyes.
And ultimately, we realized that despite its initially shocking untimeliness, this was an image of a modern woman after all. Because women do not have to look like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator, or like a member of the cast of Friends—no matter how aggressively the media attempts to persuade them that they should.
They can be feminine. They can be goddesses. They can be anything they like.
March 3, 2002
The Art Renewal Center—An Ally
Although it may sometimes seem otherwise, we are pleased to say that the Judgment of Paris does not operate in isolation. Not only do we have comrades-in-arms helping to promote full-figured feminine beauty, but we have allies in other fields who are also advancing the “aesthetic restoration” of which we speak so often.
Take visual art, for example. Anyone who has seen representative examples of the style of art that dominated the twentieth century can’t help but ask himself, “What happened?” What happened that made paintings like the following (“She Wolf” by Jackson Pollock):
the norm? How could such abominations replace the continuity of great masterpieces produced by generation after generation of artists for nearly three millennia in the West? What happened that put an end to the creation of images such as the following, entitled “Passion” (1892) by British artist Sir Frank Dicksee:
It is our consistent argument that the same forces that replaced the beauty of artworks like “Passion” with the vacant nihilism of the Pollock canvas were also responsible for enshrining as female icons the image of “supermodels” such as Jodie Kidd:
rather than breathtakingly beautiful images of plus-size models such as Chrissie Marie Crawford:
Just as we are attempting to revive the classical understanding of feminine beauty, so do we applaud the efforts of the numerous organizations that are dedicated to re-awakening the tradition of beauty in Western art. The best of these is without a doubt the Art Renewal Center. The following four excerpts from the Center’s “Mission Statement” underscore the similarity of purpose that it shares with this site:
Note the similarity between Chrissie’s features and those of the model in “Passion.” There was an image of beauty in the West, expressed in art, in femininity, in every aspect of life, for nearly three thousand years. All of this came under assault in the twentieth century. Beauty was driven underground, into the margins. Into hiding. We hope to recover it, and once again allow it to shine before us like a beacon of promise and possibility.
March 23, 2002
John William Godward
[In response to a post about John William Godward, an artist often praised at this site.]
John William Godward’s existence was almost unbearably tragic, but the truly remarkable facet of his life was that despite personal setbacks and professional scorn (Godward had the misfortune of living well into the twentieth century, by which time beauty has become anathema to the art establishment), he never faltered in his resolve to create a separate universe of beauty in his paintings, in the starkest possible contrast to the misery with which he lived. In doing so, Godward embodied the supreme Romantic ideal of the artist as a Creator who uses the fire of his own imagination to create a world superior to that which he is given, and bequeaths that creation to mankind, like the Prometheus of myth. Godward’s world of idyllic beauty is one in which we can all find solace and gather our resolve.
He was masterful at depicting femininity, the subject matter closest to his heart. One of the author’s own favourite Godward paintings is “Ionian Dancing Girl,” which graced the cover of Vern Swanson’s definitive study of the artist.
The fullness and softness of the subject’s face and limbs, and the s-curve which her body displays, links Godward’s painting to representations of ideal female beauty since the antique eras that he loved so dearly.
March 25, 2002
Vogue Magazine’s “Shape” Issue
Vogue editor Anna Wintour has been one of the most virulently and vocally size-negative people in the industry, so it’s nice to think of her as being compelled to do this issue by mounting public pressure. We can only hope.
However, the title of the magazine is very revealing: “The Shape Issue.” That’s The Shape Issue, mind you—suggesting that this edition of Vogue will be followed by an endless succession of “Shapeless Issues,” just like all the hundreds that have preceded it.
And, as we always suspected, as we always knew, any time a publication tries to put out a magazine “for every size” or “for every shape,” the fuller female figure (comprising the majority of women, remember?) is always marginalized.
Note the cover blurb, which states that the magazine will feature the following female “shapes”:
Now, let’s rephrase those descriptions to make them more accurately reflect the shapes that actually do appear in this magazine:
Two of the ads in the issue feature curvaceous models. Two out of dozens. Two.
And consider the gushing caption that accompanies the Angelina Jolie article: “For Vogue’s first-ever Shape Issue, who better to represent physical perfection than Angelina Jolie?” Indeed, who better than a woman with hardly any shape at all? Only in this day-and-age, and only in a magazine like Vogue, could Ms. Jolie be considered any kind of female ideal. Sunken cheeks? Emaciated limbs? Difficult to fathom. But perhaps the finest statement about this strange notion of the womanly ideal is Ms. Jolie’s own assessment of her physical appearance, as quoted in the article:
“I don’t think of myself as voluptuous or even feminine. I always thought I was too angular.”
Who are we to argue?
As for the “curvy” editorials, many feature Sophie Dahl rather than Kate Dillon, and, as Stacey E. points out, Sophie isn’t very curvy at all any more. Her size is given as an 8/10, but she photographs like a 6. Since Sophie never liked thinking of herself as curvy, it’s a safe bet that she is quite pleased with her current appearance. Such is her prerogative, but it effectively disqualifies her from being a representative “curvy” model.
The celebrities slotted into the “curvy” category include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Winslet, and a few others. It’s a measure of just how narrow the boundaries of size are in the media community that those actresses (lovely as they may be) are perceived to be fuller-figured than the norm.
And then there is the Kate Dillon layout. No doubt about it, she looks simply amazing (the shot on p. 316 is unforgettable), so it’s fair to call this work a breakthrough…but a qualified one. This is still Vogue, after all, and knowing the editor’s slant makes it harder to assess the intent of these images. Yes, Kate looks infinitely better than any of the starving models, and her innate beauty transcends any effort on the part of the photographer to contextualize it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling—no, more than a feeling, an assessment—that the layout is meant to be a parody. And despite Miss Dillon’s own good humour about it, this parody is not meant to be flattering to the model. Note that Kate is not in the magazine to represent the “tall” shape section, so why does the layout make an issue of her stature? It’s hard to quell the suspicion that pairing her with a diminutive male and with undersized props is a tactic that is meant to send the message (in a “safe,” humorous way) that the model is somehow too big, and “larger than normal.”
Again, only Kate’s considerable beauty enables her to rise above the context of the shoot.
March 26, 2002
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